Retired Lawyer Finds New Career in Art

MALTA – After retiring in 2010, Ballston Spa resident Darlene Van Sickle had two things on her bucket list. She accomplished the first by traveling to Nevada to visit her sister.  Circumstances had kept them apart for 34 years, and their reunion was a joyous one. The second item on Van Sickle’s list was a bit more complicated.

“I wanted to learn to paint watercolors,” she says. “Something was tugging at me, and I wanted to be creative.”

Before retiring, there was little time for creativity in her life. As a principal attorney employed by New York State, she supervised 10 attorneys and came home exhausted at the end of each day.

Von Sickle became a lawyer after discovering her passion for law while teaching business law to high school students. After a 9-year career in teaching, she enrolled in Syracuse University’s School of Law. But it was while attending college to earn her teaching degree that she first discovered her interest in painting.

“I took one elective in oil painting because I thought it would be fun,” remembers Van Sickle. “It was really fun, but I was too busy after that to paint.”

After retiring, she tracked down her former high school teaching colleague, watermedia artist Betty O’Brien.  O’Brien teaches students in her studio in the Shirt Factory in Glens Falls. Von Sickle became one of O’Brien’s students and also began taking classes from Susan Wiley at Saratoga Arts.

“Between Betty and Susan, I was so inspired to paint,” says Van Sickle. “They both taught me that if you paint what you love, the joy will come through in your work.”

As a result, she began painting what she loved–animals. An animal lover since childhood, Van Sickle says she has always tried to imagine what animals were thinking.

“I try to figure out an animal’s personality and try to bring that personality out in my paintings,” she says. “I think I’ve been successful. People really like my animal paintings.”

Van Sickle has had the opportunity to display her art at several venues. She has had two shows at the second floor gallery at Glens Falls City Hall, and she sold two painting at each show. Her paintings range in price from $280 to $450.

Her giraffe painting, “Tall Drink of Water,” won the second place “Best in Show” award at the 2018 Winter Art Show at Paul Nigra Creative Center for the Arts in Gloversville. There were more than 110 pieces of art at the show, and Von Sickle never expected to receive an award. She says she was thrilled with and surprised by the honor.

“Tall Drink of Water,” Darlene Von Sickle’s award winning mixed media watercolor (photo provided)

She is looking forward to her next show which will take place at the Sacandaga Valley Arts Network in Northville from May 1June 28, 2018. The show will feature 14 of her animal paintings.

Although Van Sickle says her favorite paintings are those that are included in her Adirondack Series of animal paintings, she also enjoys painting floral still lifes.  She hopes to branch out into plein air painting (outdoor landscape painting) but says it is much more difficult to paint with watercolors outdoors.

“Watercolors dry so fast outdoors, and once they dry, you are limited with what you can do. There is less room for errors, and I make a lot of errors,” she says with a laugh.

She credits her husband, Josh, with being her biggest fan and number one supporter. Her work hangs throughout their home, but not all of her paintings make it to walls.

“He tells me which ones he doesn’t like,” she says, laughing once again.

Van Sickle’s smile disappears when she mentions the passing of another one of her teachers, Victor Liguori. The former Director of Art at Skidmore College died in January at the age of 86.

“I’m really going to miss him,” says Van Sickle.

She has been spending less time with a brush in her hand since Liguori’s passing but wants to get back to painting on a regular basis. Her most recent painting was of her German Shepherd puppy.

Darlene Van Sickles and her German Shepherd, the inspiration for her most recent painting. (Photo: C. Graf/Ballston Journal)

“I’m only painting once a month, and I want to push myself to paint more than that,” she says. “I get a lot of joy out of painting. When I’m painting, my house is messiest. But I am happiest.”

To see more of Van Sickle’s work, visit her Facebook page.


Chris began her freelance writing career more than 15 years ago. She is a regular contributor to the PTSD Journal and the Cobblestone educational magazine FACES. She is the author of A Light in the Window: The City Mission of Schenectady, and the co-author of Save Me a Spot in Heaven. Chris is working on a new book with the warden of the Maine State Prison. She has a B.S. in Accounting from Penn State and works for Soldier's Heart, a non-profit that serves veterans and families impacted by post-traumatic stress. Chris attends Burnt Hills United Methodist church and enjoys volunteering in the community. She is a volunteer writer for the Ronald McDonald House of Albany, and has shed more than a few tears when sharing the stories of the families that have stayed at the house. Chris moved to Ballston Lake in 1996 after her husband, John, was transferred to the GE Global Research Center. She has lived in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, West Virginia, Illinois, England, and Belgium and is very happy that her three daughters have never had to experience being the "new kid" at school. All three attended Shenendehowa High School, and her youngest, Jenna, graduates in 2018. Chris is not looking forward to an empty nest and will be making many trips to Assumption College to watch Jenna play college field hockey. She has been a fixture in the stands for many years at Shenedehowa track and cross country meets, and field hockey and lacrosse games. Her most important job has been that of "mom."

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